Snow fleas? Pull the other one!

(If you don’t like tiny creepy crawlies, I suggest you go and look at a different post!)

On our walks in the woods recently we have once again noticed little black specks on the snow. Until now we thought it must be dirt from the machinery used for forestry or from old tractors driving through the woods, but this year it was extreme and so we took a closer look…

Here we saw that where tracks are (from tractor tyres, deer, our footprints, skis etc) there is more of this ‘dirt’. Could it be soot? Is our air so bad? Here, in the middle of nowhere, with no industry for miles…

When we got home my Man of Many Talents googled for ages, trying to find something about it, and when he showed me what he had found I was AMAZED! He went back to get more photos so we could check the facts!

Look…

Now I’m going to get even closer…

They are SNOW FLEAS! Now, maybe we are the only people in the world who have never heard of snow fleas before, so I hope I am not showing my ignorance, but aren’t they simply incredible? Here are several hundred or even thousands of them gathering in the hollows of tracks.

Now a little information that we found in German, summarized:

Snow fleas come out of the ground in February/March when the temperature is just above freezing. They are often thought to be soot, as they cover the snow quite thickly in places. But these ‘specks of dirt’ are all the same size (around 1 millimetre long). They can crawl and jump (about 10cm high). However, they aren’t actually fleas, but springtails, so Wikipedia says they are technically not insects.

They emerge at temperatures of about -3°C, and live on fungi, pollen or algae which provide them with a special protein that functions as a kind of antifreeze. They prefer damp forests with evergreens. It is a real migration at this time of year, as they use the snow to move more easily and to search for food and for new ground where they can increase their population.

For scientific purposes my Man of Many Talents let some crawl across his hand, and we think they are actually smaller than 1 millimetre…

So, please let me know if you have ever encountered these fascinating little creatures and any extra information would be very welcome!

😀

Interesting links:

German:

http://www.flora-x.de/schneefloh%20ceratophysella.html

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schneefloh

English:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Springtail

https://www.bioethics.ac.uk/news/-snow-flea-antifreeze-protein–could-help-improve-organ-preservation.php

 

September Favourites and 4th Blogging Anniversary!

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WordPress sent me a message yesterday to congratulate me on 4 years of blogging… where did those 4 years go?!

To celebrate here are some of my favourite things this September, captured late yesterday afternoon. The sun briefly joined me too.

The photo above is my favourite view at this time of year, with the sun lighting up the dwarf Miscanthus ‘Adagio’. The Acer in the foreground is just starting to change colour, as are the Ceratostigma plumbaginoides below, which provide for gorgeous ground cover till November.

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Another favourite is this beautiful Echinacea – supposedly “Orange Passion” but very different from the one I had last year (which the slugs ate) so I was possibly sent the wrong one. I shall call it “Custard Passion”!

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The old Tuesday view is looking slightly dishevelled at the moment – a lot of the lavenders have been cut right down, and some will need replacing completely next spring, but I still love looking across the rockery to the acer and the birch trees beyond…

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This Rosa rugosa surprised me with a few more flowers – it has kept going all through the summer.

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And this Knautia macedonica ‘Mars Midget’ is a real joy – it flowered in July and then I thought it had succumbed to the drought, but as soon as the weather cooled down it started flowering again.

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Nearby the Caryopteris is starting to open. The bees love it, and aren’t those tiny petals exquisite?

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Finally, a look at some of the plants potted up on my patio, which are giving me great pleasure right now…

What is giving you most pleasure in your garden right now?

Thank you to everyone who reads, likes or comments on my posts – I have had so much fun blogging and sharing thoughts with you over the last 4 years. Here’s to the next 4!

😀

What is Phenology?

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Pussy Willow, March 2015

Everyone knows the saying about March – “In like a lion, out like a lamb”. And then there’s the other saying which is very common here: “Christmas in clover, Easter in snow”…

These are some of the ancient proverbs passed down through generations, sometimes over hundreds of years, that show us the link between seasons and climate. They may have shifted slightly over the centuries, or have moved due to changes in our calendar (or indeed climate), and some may no longer ring true, but they can be as precise as any long-term weather forecast.

But what is Phenology?

“Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena, especially in relation to climate.”

(Source: naturescalendar.org.uk)

~~

“Oak before ash, we shall have a splash

Ash before oak, we shall have a soak”

 ~~

Phenology is much more than a few proverbs or rhyming weather predictions; observing nature in the form of weather patterns or plant and animal behaviour provides surprisingly accurate information on when to sow, plant, transplant or even prune. According to phenological observations the flowering of the Forsythia for example is an indication that the ground has warmed up enough to plant peas.

Forsythia2014

Another example of this is that potatoes can go in the ground as soon as the first dandelions have opened.

ScillaThe first pollen, the first flight of bees and butterflies, the emergence of leaves on the trees, or the first appearance of migratory birds can vary by weeks each year, and can thus give a far more precise insight into the conditions prevailing than the normal calendar. For vegetable growers the phenological calendar provides helpful insights – such as not to sow your beans until the lilac is in full bloom – but it is of interest to me for estimating when annuals can be sown or planted out, when the spring tidy-up is due, or if bulbs can still be planted in autumn.

Every gardener can benefit from closely observing nature and interpreting its signals – not only for better results, but simply for pleasure too. Watching out for butterflies and bees or the first snowdrop are things many of us do already.

A bit of history

In 8th century Japan the emperor’s experts in Kyoto began recording the beginning of the cherry blossom season; the flowering of the cherry was considered an important symbol of the reawakening, fragility and transience of all life and is today still celebrated with extravagant ceremonies and festivals.

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Shukkei-en Garden, Hiroshima, 1993

 

 

However, it was not until  the 18th century that a European began to take down similar records; Robert Marsham, a wealthy landowner from Norfolk, began to catalogue consistently first flowering dates (such as snowdrops), insect activity,  seasonal weather and temperature changes, tree foliation, crop growth, and the first sightings of butterflies and migrating birds. (His family continued this tradition until the mid 20th century.) In the meantime Carl von Linné, the Swedish botanist, had started a network in Sweden with 18 stations and a German institute in Mannheim began an international project. By the late 19th century Germany was  keeping consistent records with a researcher called Hermann Hoffmann calling for Europe-wide data to be brought together in one databank.

WildFlowersMay2014

The world wars in the first half of the 20th century ensured that phenology did not lose importance, since feeding the nation had become a matter of survival and any phenological guidelines considered helpful for growing crops were given priority. This trend continued after the war, when food was still scarce and agriculture was trying to catch up. But with the onset of new production methods and chemicals in agriculture the records were gradually phased out in the 1960s and were only revived in the 1990s when talk of global climate change emerged: Canada, the UK and the USA were some of the first states to revive their phenological observation networks at this time.

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Today phenological observations are not only of interest to agriculture however… the tourist industry is keen to be able to predict, for example, the famous cherry and apple blossom season in Hamburg, and hayfever sufferers can benefit from knowing when certain pollen is likely to be in the air.

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In Bavaria over 250 volunteers (1,200 nationwide) collect data for the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst), which recognizes not just four seasons, but TEN, beginning with the production of the hazel flowers and ending with the dropping of the larch needles. I will post about each of these ten phenological seasons tomorrow, so I hope you’ll stop by to take a look.

Do you use old proverbs to help you in the garden?

Interesting links:

The USA National Phenology Network

ATTRA National Sustainable Agriculture Informaton Service (USA)

Nature’s Calendar (UK – Woodland Trust)

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UK)

 

In a Vase on Monday: Dawn Chorus

At 4.30 this morning one of our resident blackbirds started singing outside the bedroom window. Whether he was doing it out of pure joy, or had a really important message to broadcast, I don’t know. He is always the first to start and when the whole woodlands above our house wake up it is deafening outside! At this time of year I can enjoy it, roll over and go back to sleep. When the weather warms up and the window is open it is, however, another story… Anyway, the cheery blackbird inspired my vase title today… even if the contents have little to do with dawn except perhaps the “dawning” of spring.

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Yes, Monday rolls round again and this week my vase for Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme, where we are invited to find materials from our gardens to bring indoors, is full of spring sunshine (on a cloudy day) and promise… the Forsythia and Flowering Currant have not quite opened. The daffodils and hellebores are in full bloom now, and the hazel catkins are finally pollen free and safe to bring indoors again. I also added a bit of ivy, some red Euphorbia and some golden Euonymus.

“Morning has broken, like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird”

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The soft toy blackbird is a bit cheeky don’t you think – he was borrowed from our little dog and is one of the many toys she doesn’t play with! She is fascinated by the blackbirds in the garden, and they tease her, hopping across the lawn just a couple of metres away. But she knows she mustn’t touch…

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It looks like something has nibbled at that daffodil, but I do like the tiny tinges of orange on the trumpet.

Do you ever get woken by the dawn chorus?

Take a look at Cathy’s vase today at Rambling in the Garden, as well as all the others that have linked in from around the world with lovely contributions.

Thanks for hosting, Cathy!

 

Germany’s “Flower of the Year” 2015

Photo Courtesy of Loki Schmidt Foundation - Flower of the year for 2015

Photo Courtesy of Loki Schmidt Foundation – Flower of the Year for 2015

Every year an endangered wild flower is chosen by the Loki Schmidt Foundation in Germany, with the aim of raising awareness to it and its habitat.

Some of my favourites have been chosen over the years; Hepatica nobilis in 2013, Cichorium intybus in 2009, Cardamine pratensis in 2006, Caltha palustris in 1999 and Pulsatilla vulgaris in 1996 – to name just a few.

This year the chosen flower is a close relative to one I have growing in my rockery, and is not only one of my favourites – the insects, bees and butterflies love it too.

Succisa pratensis

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Picture from Wikimedia Commons

The above photo from Wikimedia Commons is the Succisa pratensis, but all the following photos are of its close cousin Succisa inflexa, a cultivated version that is extremely happy in my well-drained soil despite supposedly being a moorland, heathland and riverbank plant. The pale blue to violet flowers of this perennial herb appear from July onwards and can still be seen in the south of Germany growing wild. But the in the north this plant has become very rare due to loss of habitat: drainage of damp meadowland for agricultural or building purposes along with the over-fertilisation of fields have led to its decline.

My Succisa inflexa ‘Frosted Pearls’ is very pale, almost white with an icy violet tinge…

Succisella

The common name, Devil’s-bit, actually refers to the roots that die off at the end and look as if they have been bitten off. Succisus is in fact latin for “bitten off below”. In the same family as Scabious, folklore claimed that the devil bit off the Succisa roots in his anger at them being used (apparently succesfully) for treating skin disorders.

I must admit I haven’t inspected the roots of mine, but will definitely take a look this year as they are spreading rapidly, just like Scabious, and some will have to be uprooted.

Succisella

Succisa flowers are an excellent source of nectar for bees and butterflies, and the plant is also a food source for some caterpillars…

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This is a Summer Map (Araschnia levana) butterfly, photographed in 2012…

Succisella and Butterfly

You can read more on the English Wikipedia page about the Flower of the Year Campaign here.

Seeds can be ordered here: jelitto.com

or here: beehappyplants.co.uk

And I also posted about this plant way back in August 2012, here.

Is there a wildflower in your region that is threatened? Which one would you choose as a “Flower of the Year” in your country to raise public awareness to it?